Camera obscura..

There was a time that photography was an individual struggle with light and matter.

Nicéphore Niépce, William Henry Fox Talbot, Frederick Scott Archer, Theodore Lilianthal, Louis Daguerre. Heros in their own right. Their sophisticated and often fascinating experiments would permanently change our relationship with the world.

From the first time I saw the “view from the window at Le Gras” I was deeply affected by the obscure and profound attempts these giants made at trying to bridge our realms of understanding, awareness and possibilty. For me, they never get old. Deeply personal and deeply committed. Purposeful fumblings in the dark that would underpin an age that has since again been completely lost. Only their shadows, fixed on paper and glass remain.

foto friday – 1960’s man on the move… the double reflex camera and pepper’s ghost

It turns out there are a few more components to taking a picture than aiming at something and pressing a button. Today most of that thinking is done for you. Certainly some powerful new options have arisen since we ditched all the base drudgery; but my thoughts still wobble around what this might mean.


Solid experience makes me reluctant to stray very far from the black box with a hole idea. And there is much to be said for experience especially when placed next to ideas. Not to put it lightly, but as someone once said …”Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth”. But back to the black box with a hole idea.

It wasn’t long after I learned that pointing a camera at a light-bulb and pressing the springy button would light up the little red circle for a specific amount of time, click-pause-click, that I began my study of optics.

Not having tools to take apart the shutter, optics proved to be an easier pursuit. I already had the seed of scientific inquiry deeply planted and taking root. Namely that the Kodak Duaflex allowed us to see into some kind of parallel dimension that need to be investigated. And that everything in this universe was backwards. I knew having been created by man, the secrets could not be held for long. It was only a matter of time.

Following this idea and over a particularly short period I would stumble across or be given some amazing discoveries that seemed rather far apart and unrelated at the time. Most breakthroughs are seldom concise. We often don’t understand or appreciate the things we have in our hands. Not to mention the small fact I had no concept that I was studying optics.


Over time I’ve come to appreciate how random and innocently solid understanding comes. The most important ingredient it seems, is plenty of time free from obstruction to play around and explore to your heart’s content. To walk away and then calmly return days and even years later with new and unrelated experiences that we can apply to our exploration and take up our study once again.

I like to think this period of my childhood was a special time where great science was finally placed in the hands of the youngest kids. Their excited minds ready to take on the greatest challenges in new and novel ways. Given the new tools and information – not in the ‘I can look it up on Wikipedia sense’ but dropped directly into your hands in a ‘hey check this out’ kind of way.

I think the first was the milk carton periscope revelation. My first double reflex camera, film wasn’t necessary, it used memory to do the job. Looking back I still wonder today if screens or paper are really up to the task?

Milk cartons along with cereal boxes, scotch-tape, straws, construction paper, paper clips and paper plates were the building blocks of the age. Plentiful, accessible and cheap. They allowed countless experiments and iterations in the drive to make technology succeed. Every house held its own little Elon Musk. Dreaming, developing, building and constantly told to stop using so much tape.


The main drive of the periscope was to allow you to see around corners, fascinating no doubt. But it was clear to any idiot that periscopes were designed for one purpose and that was to turn you into a spy. An exciting prospect at the time, as a kid there is always plenty to spy on. And with a little imagination you could be a marine.

The guy they sent to get things done. Marines would try out stuff no matter how dangerous it was. They’d turn back with a big grin on their face, helmet in waving in their hand yelling c’mon let’s go. This is a guy you might want to be. This was a post war vision you could be part of until the ongoing green beret vs marine argument got started and follows us down to today. And you could ignore the hidden sense that it was ok that optics and film were woven into surveillance that should be increasingly turned on everyday life. Ultimately aesthetics like religion would become useless and cameras could turn to serve more powerful gods.

More important to me however, was the fact that when you looked into the periscope, the image remained right side up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the part about spying. I made dozens of these (I still have no idea where the small square mirrors came from). Each one different. Longer, narrower, wider, I tried increasingly to darken the inside. Inherently I began to understand what others before me had. The box had to be black.

I taped construction paper to the inside. Painted the pieces of cardboard before folding them into a ‘scope’. I tried pressure fitting the mirrors in place. Fitting them in slots and relying on tape. Trying out different sized holes to see what they did. With no idea how much I was learning, I was simply thrilled to be looking into a box and always seeing it right side up.


The camera lucida  was a gift from my grandmother. It was supposed to help me draw roses and bugs. And god knows I tried endless times to get it to work. I remember laying on the back lawn in the shade and studiously drew what I could.

Introducing paper and pencil to the equation was a major step in the right direction. It provided a technical means of recording what I was seeing. And I was vaguely aware that I was doing what some of the great master artists had done. I was struggling along with Durer and DaVinci but again I had no idea who they were or what it meant.

The only artist I knew was Van Gogh. And I knew he wasn’t really good at drawing hands. Who knows, maybe he needed a camera lucida? I did know he was exceptionally good at colour and composing, especially when he made pictures of boats. But this was far away from my little camera lucida, and I was more interested in using it as a cheap pepper’s ghost.

Like other renaissance artists of the 15thC, I was going to have to wait a number of years before discovering a sure-fire way of directly capturing light. The imaginative leap required would evade me for years. I would pursue the drawing for quite some time. Comparing my own results with Niépce’s view from the window at Le Gras and wondering if eight good hours of skilled camera-lucida drawing might not offer similar results.

view from the window at Le Gras, 1826

I actually don’t know which came first – the camera lucida or the milk-box version of pepper’s ghost?  I suspect it was pepper’s ghost.  Hailing from twin worlds of magic and stagecraft. The ‘lucida’ was a technology that was dedicated strictly to science and art.

Pepper’s Ghost

My pepper’s ghost was nothing as fine as the one above, I wouldn’t even see this illustrations for another twenty years. Mine came from a book that I owned that was more valuable than any literary classic or even gold. It was called The Pik-Kwik Book of Magic.

Simple, sparse, minimalist and modern, it wasn’t like the National Geographic or  even the educational Golden Books. The latter two were like shoe boxes. Limited in supply and the type of resource grown-ups liked you to use. They were purposeful and had value, and didn’t use them to just goof around. Along with scotch-tape and scissors, it put grown-ups square in the chain of production. There was no way science was going to evolve with that.

I’m pretty sure the plans for both the periscope and pepper’s ghost came out of the Pik-Kwik book.  But of the two I remember the ghost the best. The diagram below shows you as much as I would know. But after building a couple you’ll get the idea.

Just keep in mind that this simple plan still remains powerful and sophisticated enough to get Michael Jackson onto the 2014 Billboard award stage. It makes heads-up displays and teleprompters work. And word has it that even my Panasonic zs-50 viewfinder has one.



As a kid, most of the books explaining how this stuff works were confusing and not very helpful. It wasn’t until years later as a theatrical lighting designer that I wandered back into their midst. But they did introduce me to an idea that you could use pictures as a clear and concise attempt at explaining the world. At least the part of it you saw. Not to mention an introduction to technical drawing which stayed with me all my life.


In the end, these highly developed toys left me with a rich experience of exploring the visual world. This basic black box with a hole coupled with some basic optical tools and unrecorded memory managed to give me a solid baseline to compare everything else.

foto friday – 1960’s man on the move …the kodak duaflex II

At some point early on in life, I’m not quite sure why, I was shown how to put film into this camera and take it outside and actually take pictures!  I must have been pretty young at the time, but I had already apprenticed for many hours with the top flipped up, staring down into the thick glass, trying to get my bearings with the mirror image in front of me.

There were not many things more exiting in life than swinging the camera one way and having a mirrored square of the world speed off in the opposite direction.

I knew it was a camera. It had to be with its deep claret red circle on the back that you could just see the light through. It wasn’t particularly special when the back was open ; but when the shutter was pressed the little red circle was bathed in light.  Combine this with the sound of the metal leaf shutter sliding out of the way and it was pure magic.


If a camera is a nothing more than a black box with a hole in it, then this one was a real step up from the one I had. Capable of taking the most sophisticated double exposures with alien hokey-bokeh effects and lomo craziness that even the most dedicated hipster would die for. Not to mention the black and white retro cachet.

I’m still impressed with the stunning design job done by the Kodak team on such a simple machine. From the pebbled sides and great proportioning to the black plastic strap that could have been made straight out of a box of Broadway licorice ribbon.

Sling it around your neck, look down (and sideways just for fun) and you were suddenly part of the wilder world of Weegee and the front page of the daily news.

Once it actually had film in it, I didn’t really know what to do with a camera . And I certainly didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Up to this point, a camera was pure technology. Something that made cool noises, came apart so you could explore the inside in order to guess what everything did, and once closed up you could point directly at light bulbs and watch the red circle light up with astounding precision whenever you were ready. The duaflex II featured one added bonus, the ability to explore the world in another dimension. A world in reverse.

My first and only camera up to this point was a Kodak Baby Brownie. As much a point and click machine as you are ever going to see. A pocket-sized art-deco masterpiece in bakelite. An indestructible 2 piece monster that represented the first step away from the paste-card and leather boxes that evolved into the iPhone today.

That is, it would be pocket-size if you had a special pair of cargo pants and didn’t mind a block the size of a rubiks cube banging against your leg. Granted, it did have wonderfully curved features and epic design capable of making todays cellphone fanatics wet their pants. And for small hands, it was a treasure to hold and easy to use.  That is if it had film in it, which never seemed to be the case.



For some reason every memory I have of the Baby Brownie  is when it’s apart. Or in some stage of being taken apart and reassembled. Thing was, I was going to be an inventor even if I had no idea how to get there. But with my germanium-Rocket-Radio and Girder-and-Panel building set figured I could just start taking things apart and put them back together again while observing carefully and eventually I would arrive. I knew I was onto something. Science, technology , progress – it was bound to work out. Like the communists and americans with their space race, how could it not???


But once I got the back of this sucker open I found there were a few more parts. Here my friends was something else. Originally it wasn’t my camera, that would come later. It was my mom’s.

She showed me how to take out the old spool and put it in the bottom with the wide side out. Put in the new spool facing the right way, pull the paper down and thread it through the slot. Give it a few turns to make sure it folded over properly and then close the back.

The round red window now took on new meaning as you slowly wound the film through, carefully watching the line and letters until the number 1 lined up center in the window.

Now you were all set! The next 12 times you pressed the button would get you a picture. The idea was that each one of them could be separate, as long as you remembered to advance the film. Forgetting the lens cap wouldn’t come until later with even more complicated equipment.

Somehow, Kodak had managed to take a bulky and unmanageable process; wet plates of glass, tin and collodion and sliding them into heavy wooden boxes pulling out slides, pressing the shutter, putting the slide back in and hanging around to deal with physicality of chemistry before moving on to the next picture; put it all onto a roll the size of a shotgun shell and drop it in the hands of ordinary people. This idea would change the world.

At the end of the roll you simply wound up the paper, licked the gummy tasting seal and taped it shut and dropped it off at the drugstore where it would be sent away for upwards of a week and return with the pictures you thought you’d taken.

I already knew from looking at other pictures that they would come back square and mostly grey with great deckle edges that I pine for today. Sometimes they were washed out, sometimes too much contrast, but mostly they were perfect. A little like reception on TV.

If you worked at it like some grown-ups did, you could get a great picture that everyone liked. A skill akin to adjusting the rabbit-ears on top of the set. All of a sudden the world tuned in and everyone was happy. Mostly pictures were of people. At least they were if you pointed a camera at them which seemed to be the one thing most people did.

The thing is that the people were either posing or doing stupid everyday things they always did at special occasions. I already knew most of them. Knew their poses, and knew the routines they were famous for. In real life they were always happy to repeat their pose or performance on command so what was the point. That’s what memory was. For when they weren’t around. And somehow pictures never ‘captured the occasion’. Even if there were two, three or even four of them.

All the sights, smells and sounds. The great way you feel when you laugh. The squabbling and mini-crisis’. The conversations and jokes and renewed acquaintances. As a document of who was there okay, but I was a little young to be into that. I loved to remember and remembering wasn’t pictures. I didn’t know what pictures were, but I was determined to somehow to find out.


As far as I know, this is the first picture I took. The toboggan run in Waterloo Park.

If this isn’t my actual picture, the one I took was so similar it may as well be. I seemed to take a lot of pictures like this. I wanted to use the camera to explore. To capture things like “skiing’ at the new north hill at Chicopee. To catch the exhilaration and expanse. The quality of light and it’s effects on objects. To say something about movement and space. To somehow make sense of and snatch at this backward universe that so brightly glowed my glass.

It’s a like taking pictures with a radio telescope. Or knowing how to study chromatography, especially from space. The elements are there, there’s no denying something happened, but previous knowledge and educated guesses have to guide us along.

To this day, even with a smart phone, photographs always come from the past. From another dimension. No longer inhabiting the universe we’re in and only hinting at an outline of what was. An affectation of the soul. An act of imagination.


And it’s still the same. Always looking down into that little black box; down into an alternate world that has its own rules, its own dimensions, and hopefully in a desperate act of magic I try to understand what it is I see and press that button and pray. Close my eyes and wait to see what comes back.


      Rocket-Radio !


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picture tuesday – let’s face it

The last couple of weeks have given me an opportunity to look at some of the bigger questions in life and think about how I would like to address them.  And while it has the potential of being a dark subject, I’m not sure I can sum it up any better than Ted Forbes does in this video. Harsh as it sounds at first, I think he manages to hit the nail squarely on the head…


foto friday – clouds part two

Johannes Vermeer – View of Delft

I always like to think there were three things I could spend my life photographing   …Well actually it’s only two, and I only really take pictures of one.

First and foremost I was always struck by trees. They’re everywhere you go. Intricately complex. And full of allegorical power. From the delicate shades of color when they’re bunched together in the distance to the hyper-realist detail when viewed up close. I know from long experience that trees are the most difficult subject to draw well. Perhaps even more complex and demanding than drapery and the human form.

It was the challenge of drawing drapes and humans and trees that made me shift from painting and drawing to photography. I set out to compile reference material so that I could study undisturbed for hours, the details of how physics, light and optics renders a subject in two dimensions.

I’m not sure I got very far with my giant book of trees and my eye began to stray towards other ideas. Other things began to jolt and occupy my mind. Like the basilica as a structure and a plan for experiencing space. An idea that deeply impressed on me and still colors my view of light, theater and architecture to this day. In short even though I keep them constantly in the corner of my eye, the trees were relegated to the sidelines.

Basillica form with transept

My second subject was high tension transmission towers and pylons, and to some extent just poles.  A fascinating visual story of structure and necessity, simplicity and balance.

From the first time I climbed a tower above a sea of rhubarb to  Sam Miller’s 1998 film ‘Among Giants’ – they have never been far from my heart. The thinness of the steel laced together against the sky. Hydro towers more than anything else hum to me the music of the modern age. They’ve got my attention.

I look at them like crazy stick figures created by wedding  Giacometti’s shadows and existential panic to  Lissitzky’s revolutionary idea of “das zielbewußte Schaffen” where the artist is an agent for change 

Alberto Giacometti – Three Men Walking

Lone majestic giants marching over every corner of the earth, hydro towers as the 20th C structure of worship -always on the move.

Like the mosque, temple, synagogue and church that once strung every community together through faith.  These 20th C sentinels stretch well beyond the age of reason and past the heavy industrial rails of the 19th. Mischievous electricity as the atomic age of transformation. Reaching right into our homes and held aloft by structural sculptures of progress that are always by our side  …but then, I digress.

For in the end, it was the sky, and in particular clouds that held my gaze. A constant backdrop connecting us through time to a world that existed even before man.

The daylight contemplation of the heavens just like those who contemplate at night, not only seems proper but also necessary in adjusting our sense of scale.

It places us not at the centre of the universe, but embedded deeply in it. While small and insignificant, we become capable of sharing in incomprehensible  grandeur. It allows us to connect with the vast forces we feel but cannot see.

It was Kenneth Clark who said that each new birth of civilization was welcomed by a new understanding and experiencing of space. Clouds can do for me as can art and faith. I suppose it’s how you look at them in the end that matters.

I can’t say where my visual interest in representing clouds comes from. How it moved from carefully watching for breaks in the sky that revealed “enough blue to make a sailors pants” as my grandmother put it (which meant it would turn out to be a fine day, sunny and full of wind) to the lavish visual creations of Albert Bierstadt and the westward expansion.

Undeniably the Western Plains and Eastern Slopes of the North American Rockies produce some of the finest clouds and skies. But one look at the work of the wonderful Russian painter Isaac Levitan leads me to believe planet is filled with limitless opportunity for shared creation.

In fact, studying art through history has been the largest influence on my work. And frankly it’s a two-way street. As a photographer I’ve taken many cues from the paintings of Vermeer and many Dutch painters of the early 17th C.

Salomon Van Ruisdael – A view of Deventer seen from the North-West

And when I discovered Kodachrome 64 I truly felt that I (and photography) finally belonged to the world of art. This film gave me a new and immense respect for  Canaletto who seemed to travelling down a similar road. His clouds like Vermeer’s and countless others were free and unencumbered, unfettered and alive as a someone would later sing.

Giotto di Bondone – The Lamentation

I was once told the definitive error in western painting was when Giotto painted the sky blue. And while I am in sympathy and agree – in less than 200 years Giorgione’s Tempest would introduce a more powerful, nuanced complex possibility to the question of representation in art.

It was lecture on Giorgione’s painting that first made me aware of the concept of clouds and landscape as legitimate dramatic subjects on their own.

While many consider the Tempest as the western world’s first ‘landscape’ painting I know that it’s brooding ability to perplex and confound us makes it more than that.

Giorgioni –The Tempest

And while I appreciate  Constable’s  lithe and rapid depictions of early 19th C clouds before the age of steam  …today I’m more interested in rediscovering the Baroque and Ultra-Baroque. Those towering masses of clouds capable of holding angels, saints and putti aloft no matter how light they should be.

Andrea Pozzo –  Ascencion of S. Ignazio 

foto friday – holding on to detail

Mt. Chapin – 3795m, CO

There are few harder situations than shooting at high altitudes in bright sunlight with lots of haze. Sticking with the ‘black box with a hole in it’ approach;  getting an image that represents both how you both and how you experience a vista is incredibly difficult.

It’s even more difficult when you don’t resort to intense filtering, gadgetry or massive post-processing manipulation which is when a document can start to stray.

It’s also why I have come to appreciate ( almost worship ) those photographers of the 19th century who ventured into the mountains with cumbersome equipment and an intent and understanding of how they might get it in ‘one shot’.

And too, to those photographers like Ansel Adams who spent a lifetime struggling with technicality in order to capture, partly through process, the grandeur and complexity of life.

towards Estes Park, CO


Asif Hassan – the decisive moment


Photo by Asif Hassan – Karachi, Pakistan (The Guardian UK edition)

It has been a very long time since I’ve seen a photograph of this calibre, published or curated. With the plethora of images around us – many of them very good, I have always feared the great works of our age would be buried amidst a pile of rubbish.

Today I came across one of those astounding pictures that in fact may be one of the best photographs I’ve ever seen. I know there is a loud faction that would argue everything is context and personal, but I’m more interested in great art which is always transcendent.

Based in Pakistan, Asif Hassan has been publishing photos in The Guardian newspaper for several years and with a little searching you can find his work online there and elsewhere.

Certainly outside of Sebastião Salgado and one other photograph, I can’t think of any other picture in the last 40 years that has managed to both transcend the medium and reveal the profound power and enduring importance of a good photograph the way this one does.


Edwin Land presents – instant fun in a box !!

polaroid-onestep-SX70-whiteFor anyone who’s spent time developing pictures, spooling and dunking tanks, rinsing, tilting, waiting, mixing, measuring, weighing, washing, squinting, fumbling, while sitting in the dark listening to the shortwave radio and scribbling notes about dilutions and diminishing chemical strengths; what Dr. Land did on stage in those 5 seconds in 1972 was nothing short of a miracle. Up to that point, making a picture was always a very tangible process. Trying to insure the room was black, the temperature was stable, plenty of fresh water, everything in its place and our muscle memory reliable and competent. Constantly fighting humidity, dust, impurities and time. Balancing it with precision, knowledge, patience and skill. A good picture, not even a great one, was materially wrestled out of light and thin air. And whatever the process was, the first thing that comes to mind wasn’t fun.

I stepped outside this morning and was struck by how the morning light fell about the yard. It was a pretty mundane view but still it intrigued me so I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture. Maybe it would intrigue others too?  I quickly checked the screen, it actually did a decent job of documenting what I saw.

In fact,  just snapping an image and checking becomes an act of pleasure and entertainment in itself.  And apparently I’m not the first to notice this. What Edwin Land’s SX-70 did was change forever how we feel and interacted with images.

All of a sudden pictures are instant, self gratifying and totally in our power. The whole process is exclusively ours with no one else involved We can enjoy the fruits of anything we record even before we leave the scene. Snap a picture and a minute later we’re looking at it, judging it, showing it off, and getting others to judge it.  If everyone agrees, we have our picture. If not, we can immediately adjust the world until it looks exactly how we like. And then we try again.

There’s no driving to the store or taking the bus across town. No standing at the counter examining contact sheets with a plastic loupe. No horribly developed duplicate prints to shuffle through. No need to be marking little x’s and circles or pointing out bits of dust. No pushing or pulling and no coming back days later to see if we can decide which shots are good. Often seasons changed before you got your picture. One look at the commercials of the day and gets you an idea what it was like. *

To top it off,  no one could count on someone else to deliver their prized memories and experience. We always end up siding with the woman standing at the counter braying ” if they come back shaky, I’m not paying”. Everyone knew it could be their  own pictures coming back faded blue and green or murky black.  People shelled out money and told themselves “I meant it to be that way” and quietly wished for better luck next time.  Not with a Polaroid though, no sir!  Suddenly we lived in a future where taking pictures was exciting and incredibly fun!!

Hello instagram, selfies, pinterest, flikr, facebook, tumblr and more. Kittens, puppies, lunches, babies, flowers, trees and any thing else that catches our fancy. The pictures aren’t that much different. It’s how we take them that’s changed. That and the sheer volume of them. Images have become a waste product of our daily lives. Inhabiting our internal landscape like a city in the midst of a garbage strike**

Imagine for a minute how many images we capture daily of the Eiffel Tower, Lotte World and Everland?  Think of how people would have behaved or experienced taking those pictures in the 1930’s or 1860’s.  Dr. Land’s strange and wonderful invention introduced us to a whole new way of imagining the world. Truly carefree and disposable in practice. The world we now inhabit is instantaneous, impulsive and without consequence or history. Free from the complexity and constant physical grappling needed to visually capture experience. We stopped gazing and contemplating and our records became as fleeting as our thoughts.polaroid-SX70-classic

Equally the magic box of Dr. Land would turn out to be prescient of other trends to come. It would introduce a landmark patent case that would be familiar to us today. Devoid of inspiration or innovation like most American companies since that time, Kodak would try to steal this fun idea and disguise it as their own. They would have to pay for this infringement,  $909.4 million dollars to be exact.

Polaroid’s public popularity would be brief. Peaking in less than 20 years. 10 years later they would file for bankruptcy. A labour force of 21,000 reduced to 150 people in the end. Crippled and left out in the cold with the rest of the photographic world. The change they ushered in would spell their doom.

But what surprised me most in stopping to look at Polaroid and Edwin Land, is just how many Polaroid products I have owned or used over the years. It was a bit of a shock really. I never really thought of them as part of the product of my workaday world. They often solved intractable problems incredibly well. For me, Polaroid was never a passion but it was always deeply fascinating, sophisticated beyond belief and above all else loads of fun!!!


*   fotomat television advertisement from 1973

** this is how I imagine our mental landscape


Edwin Land’s self developing film


Today marks the day 65 years ago that Edwin Land received his patent for self developing film. I sort of came across this fact by accident. Like almost everything about him, I wasn’t looking for it and it wouldn’t normally have popped up during the course of the day. Fact is though, as soon as I saw it I knew enough to pay attention.

Edwin Land was a funny kind of hero to me for many years.  I never really connected him to his cameras, or to his film.¹ For the most part, I was unaware of his quiet contributions but it didn’t stop me from regularly tripping over his name associated with something I was doing. As a person, he never ‘burst onto the scene’ and always seemed to remain just a little out of sight. But his timely contributions managed to shape a generation and his iconic inventions still influence our day-to-day life.

Land was a scientist and innovator capable of putting many of our current superstars to shame.  I mean, here’s a guy who left after a freshman year of studying chemistry at Harvard to invent a film that contained millions of micron-sized polarizing crystals that all lined up with each other and were capable of filtering light. In order to do this he used the New York City Public Library to do his research and snuck into the laboratories of Columbia University at night to do his work.

He returned to Harvard but never finished his degree because he didn’t need one. Once he figured out a solution to a problem in his head, he just went ahead and solved it. He had little interest in writing it down, and even less in trying to prove himself to others.

Together with his Harvard physics professor he started a company to produce his polarizing film. Designed for optics and scientific work they managed to get it to work on sunglasses and camera lenses and this brought in enough money to start his Polaroid Corporation in 1937.

He went on to make the first full-colour 3D glasses, the brightness control necessary for all LCD’s, target finders, dark adapting goggles, the first passively guided smart bomb, and a stereoscopic system that could reveal camouflaged positions in aerial photographs. His team developed the optics on the U-2 spy plane, and the ability to project the entire spectrum with only 2 colours of light. But most importantly, on February 21st 1947 he demonstrated the first instant camera and film to the Optical Society of America. The Polaroid 95



Despite the fact that he never obtained any type of formal degree, his commitment to science had him perform at least one experiment every day and earned him enough respect to be called Dr. Land by his friends, employees and the press. The Wall Street Journal being the only known exception, adamantly refusing to attach the Dr. before his name.

Wall street in general took a dim view of him. They and his investors disliked the fact that he made his decisions based on what he felt was right both as a scientist and a humanist. He consistently hired women and trained them as research scientists and put himself and his company at the front of the affirmative action movement after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

When he died at the age of 81, his personal notes and papers were shredded by an assistant.

We’ve fast forgotten how physical the world of photography was for most of its existence. The glass plates, flash pans, massive tripods, stools, boxes and giant cameras. The problem of trapping light in a black box and getting it to physically stick to a surface was something more than alchemy, and that Dr. Land could permanently stabilize it in dye was more than remarkable.

There had been instant film for cameras since he introduced it in 1947. But it was still physical and messy. And in the 10 seconds that passed when Edwin Land pulled a folded camera out of his pocket and took 5 ‘instant’ photos at the annual meeting of his company in April 1972, this would change forever.

Congratulations and Happy Birthday to all, for none of this would be possible without the original patent for self developing film.

¹The whole story of his life is worth the read from the following link from which I have drawn a fair bit of information  →  Edwin Land